Aunt Alice

Yesterday, Sarah continued HerKentucky's

celebration of Women's History Month

with

a tribute to her great-great-grandmother

. As I read that post, I was struck by the poignant beauty of Sarah's family's attempts to reconstruct Ruby Lovelace's history from the handful of details they have about her life. I've started and scrapped and re-written today's post at least a dozen times because I have the opposite problem. One of the most influential women in my life is my great-great-aunt Alice, whose story has been told many times. There's even

a book

about about her life. The funny thing about legends, though, is that they tend to leave out the most important details of all.

Alice Hall Slone was born May 4, 1904 in Caney Creek, KY, the fifth of eight children born to

Isaac

and

Leanor

[Thornsberry] Slone. I can remember, as a kid, thinking how bizarre Ike and Leanner's kids' names seemed -- there were their older girls, Frankie Jane, Lou Hettie, and Rilda (my great-grandmother), their son Commodore, and the baby, Bertha. In comparison, I remember thinking while listening to family stories, Alice and her younger brothers Bob and Jim Courtney lucked out.

Rilda and Leanor with my great-aunt Marie, 1930s

Aunt Alice's story truly is amazing. As a bright female student in a poor, rural corner of Eastern Kentucky, it became clear that her opportunities were limited. Alice Lloyd, the Boston "society lady" who founded

the school in Caney Creek

, arranged for Alice Slone to travel all the way to Cleveland to attend school -- while Alice studied there, her guardian and hostess was Susan B. Anthony's niece. Alice went on to study at Ohio State. As

I've said many times

, our family -- like so many other Knott County families -- owe so much to Mrs. Lloyd for the incredible educational and cultural opportunities she helped young people attain. It must have been terrifying for a young girl -- her father recently deceased and with no real exposure to life outside the holler -- to travel all that way to learn. It's a 6 hour, 400-mile drive from Caney to Cleveland now; I can't imagine how arduous the journey was in the late nineteen-teens.

Rilda and Alice, early 1980s

The official story always goes that, while Alice's sisters chose the traditional roles of wife, mother, and homemaker, Alice's path led her straight toward education. My grandfather, however, sometimes laughingly spoke of Alice's short-lived marriage to a know-it-all East Coast newspaper reporter whom he and his siblings nicknamed "Uncle New York Times." Regardless, Alice went on to found the

Lotts Creek Community Center

(

The Cordia School

) in Knott County. The school was her life's work -- it was fueled mainly on donations, working on a unique public-private hybrid model. Many of Mrs. Lloyd's Northeastern "society contacts" were called upon to maintain the school. I can remember, as a high school student interviewing Aunt Alice for a school project, being most impressed that her donor list included the Eastmans (of both Kodak Film and "Paul McCartney's in-laws" fame.)

Alice Slone, Rilda Watson, Bertha Whitaker, 1980s.

Aunt Alice was an amazing lady. She founded a school -- who even knew you could do that? -- and championed educational and environmental causes. (Did I mention she was an early opponent of mountaintop removal?) What I remember about her, though, is that she was kind and smart and funny. I remember her rustic, log cabin-style living room with an oddly bohemian beaded curtain concealing a closet. I remember her milky-white skin and bright blue eyes -- common traits among the Slone family. I don't remember an educational trailblazer; I remember a lovely lady whom we were always glad to visit.

Ruby Lovelace Childress

March is Women's History Month.

As Heather posted on Friday, there are a lot of famous women from Kentucky making history every day.

 However, I believe Women's History Month shouldn't be just about the women making history but also the history of women who have shaped our lives in other ways.

One woman whose history I think about quite a lot is my great-great-grandmother Ruby Lovelace Childress. Born on July 21, 1884 (a week before my own birthday), Ruby was the ninth child of Virgil and Mary Lovelace. By this point, her mother had already buried five of the nine children born to her.

Ruby was born in to a family with options and resources. You see the Lovelace's were upperclass people, as evidenced by this photograph.

I'm guessing most girls her age couldn't afford fancy white dresses and parasols - much less photographers to take pictures of them in such finery. 

The family lore goes Ruby married "down" when she married my great-great-grandfather Dellon Gold Childress. He was a "dirt farmer" where she was used to music lessons and fine china. 

Despite the different economic situations her mother and Ruby found themselves in upon marriage, one thing was the same thing. There lives were immediately taken over with the task of reproduction. Beginning in 1903, Ruby began having basically a baby a year until 1907. She had a small respite (and I'm assuming a miscarriage) before picking back up in 1911. Two years later, she had my great-grandmother Gertrude. 

By the next year - ten days before her 30th birthday - she was dead. She died of ectopic pregnancy.

There are so many women in my family. Long-living women who raised children, ran businesses,

even some who pursued a passion for writing.

 However, Ruby and the absence her death left has also fascinated me.

The women on my mother's side of the family are not particularly nurturing women. Kind? Yes. Involved? Yes. Quick with the hugs and kisses? No. The theory goes that my great-grandmother was only a baby when her mother died and although the stepmother who came soon after loved her, she was never nurturing in the way Ruby would have been. Therefore, my great-grandmother was the same to her children and so on and so forth. 

I think about what her death meant and if the impact was so far-reaching. I think about what I might have shared with Ruby - a passion for learning or a love for music. I wonder how my life would have been different had I had no choice in my reproductive future. I wonder if Ruby was frustrated or scared. 

I wonder so much I even once wrote a short story about her.

Mainly, I wish she'd had a chance to write her own history and that there had been more of it. 

~ Sarah Stewart Holland 

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